Stories of noble deeds and horrendous violence experienced by the refugees.
“I slipped into a salwar kameez and slippers,” she recalls. “My father gathered my six-month old brother in his arms and held my two-year-old sister. Khan bhai took the trunk my mother had readied earlier. My mother wore a salwar suit. She threw a dupatta over her kameez. Khan bhai told her to ‘wear it like we do.’ My mother draped the dupatta such that only her eyes could be seen. My father wore a ‘kula lungi’ (a turban) on Khan bhai’s instructions to make him look like his brother. Khan bhai led the way. At a square, a mob stood with guns. On Khan bhai’s request, they let us go. At the next square, he told another gun-toting group they would have to kill him first. Though adamant at first, they let us go. We took a train from Bannu station. Crowded platforms greeted the train at each stop. No one knew which city or town the train was headed to. They only knew one thing. We were all going to Hindustan.”
The early exit was perhaps a lucky move for the Chawlas. Six months later, on January 10, passengers leaving on a train from Bannu, Pakistan, were massacred in an ambush at Gujranwala. It sent shock waves in the refugee camps in Ambala where many Bannu migrants had taken shelter.
“The January 10 train was supposed to be the last. Many lost their entire families. My grandmother’s family was on this train; only one or two members survived. Grandma would count the dead on her fingers,” recalls Ms. Malhotra.
Her granny’s sister who survived returned with spine-chilling accounts of the carnage. “They killed the young one by one. The women were taken into the jungles and raped in the open,” narrates Ms. Malhotra. The old woman would often say, ‘Why did I live? I saw my daughters getting raped with my guilty eyes. I saw men being butchered. Why didn’t they kill me?’ Her daughter’s young son had to flee for his life. Every morning her daughter would sit at Faridabad station and ask passengers alighting from trains, ‘Have you seen my Manohar?’”